They're the best and they sell. Enough said.
You see them everywhere: at the drugstore, at the mall, at the airport. You might even have them inside your home: on your bedside table, in your purse, next to the john. They're advertised on television, and some people can't stop talking about them.
No, we're not talking about tabloid magazines or prophylactics—we're talking about bestselling books.
These riveting page-turners capture the attention of the masses, but sometimes—and don't tell anyone we told you this (oh, who are we kidding, tell everyone!)—you might learn something. These books tackle the same themes as those stuffy old "classics" you've read, but with an extra injection of fun. Who needs Lord of the Flies when you have The Hunger Games? Well, there's room for both. It's like having a main course with a delicious side. But sometimes, you won't be able to tell which one's the steak (or meatless vegetarian alternative) and which one is the potatoes.
Here's a sneak peek at a video from the course. BYOP (bring your own popcorn).
Unit 1. Top of What Charts?
This unit will introduce you to the world of bestsellers, familiarizing you with the most important bestsellers lists and authors, and describing the process of creating bestselling literature—from story idea to dust jacket.
Unit 2. Game of Stones—Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones
In this unit, you'll read (or reread) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and A Game of Thrones, getting to know the wonderful world of fandom through these bestselling franchises.
Unit 3. The Most Dangerous Games
It's no surprise that dystopia has a place in bestselling literature. In this unit, you'll dig deeper by reading both The Hunger Games and Ready Player One.
Unit 4. 'Cause This is Thriller
Thriller and horror are quite the combination. In this unit, you'll read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Shining, discussing the relationship between authors and their bestselling works as well as what's so intriguing about all this spooky stuff.
Unit 5. Help! We Need Somebody—To Make Sense of History
Bestselling historical fiction has taken off recently, and this unit will tackle the genre through The Help. Along the way, we'll learn that bestsellers become even better sellers with a little controversy thrown in.
Unit 6. The Perks in Our Stars
You'll finish off by reading some Young Adult hits: The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars. Turns out everyone loves teen drama.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: Anatomy of a Bestseller
This is going to come as a shock. We hope you’re sitting down.
Bestsellers don’t miraculously jump from an author's brain like a bunch of gods from Zeus’ skull and climb to the top of the bestseller charts. While you're furiously flipping pages to discover the resolution to the last chapter's cliffhanger, you might assume that the words you're poring over just effortlessly hopped from brain to fingers to computer screen to paper to bookshelves to the top of charts. Bestselling status achieved, it's time for the author to go back and crank out another one.
Right? These authors are essentially just robots in human skin programmed to make books that dominate the lists we all adhere to, aren’t they?
This might be how Nora Roberts does it—seriously, that woman must be magical—but for most authors it's a much more laborious process.
Like pinball or playing the lottery, writing a bestselling novel doesn't just depend on skill, either. It requires a heaping helping of timing, publicity, and a dash or two of luck. Mm, delicious and amazing luck.
Have we mentioned there is no one single perfect formula for this process? We did? Carry on, then.
In this lesson, we'll get a peek at how bestsellers are made. Well, we'll get a peek at how a bestseller is made. Like snowflakes or the minions from Despicable Me, they might all seem the same on the surface—not that you'd judge a book by its cover—but the story behind each one is different.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3a: The Greatest Mystery: Making a Bestseller
Cracking out of Zeus’ head like Athena, and coming into the world fully formed seems easier to us than actually writing a bestseller—even with all those feisty gods and goddesses have to deal with. Every author's story is different, but they all seem to involve an epic challenge and a lot of luck.
Let’s gaze deeply into the mystery of bestseller-dom by looking at these tips from an editor specializing in crime and thrillers. Many of you likely commented on suspense and the "page-turner" in your analysis paragraphs of one lesson past, so pay close attention, as you’ll be needing this info for your next activity.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3b: Secrets to Success
Warning, warning: Slow down to create a roadmap for success. Before we create a visual plan for bestselling success, let’s look at one more article of advice from the King of bestselling authors—Stephen King.
We’ll read one of King’s many works in Unit Four, and learn more about his life, so let’s get a taste with his majestic writing advice.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3a: What Does the King Say?
Let’s check your comprehension, shall we?
After you read the King article, answer these questions in two to four complete sentences per question.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3b: Success: the Road Trip
Whether or not you actually have your license at this point in your life, it’s time to put yourself in the driver’s seat of success. Synthesize both the editorial advice and the Kingly advice and tell us, what will be your route to bestseller-dom be?
You’ll create an illustrated road map to success—something along the lines of when Billy from the Family Circus goes wandering around town, except more thought-provoking and less preachy.
And more focused on bestselling books. Obvi.
Remember, there’s more than one path to success. Perhaps you can start with "writing a book" and end with "see it at the top of the NYT bestseller list." Or maybe you’re into King’s "found" stories, and you’ll start with "excavate" and end with "unearth the story."
Other "landmarks" you might want to include could be any of the following:
- Daily writing practices
- Creating characters
- Making realistic settings
- Never living up to the hype of your first bestseller and falling into obscurity. Sara Gruen—where are you?
To make your map, feel free to kick it old school with pencil and paper, and then take a picture and upload your final product below. Or you can go the high-tech route and use Microsoft Office.
Regardless of the route you take, make sure your finished creation has color and at least ten stops on your "map," each with an illustration and a short paragraph of two to three sentences explaining that stop.
For example, if you wanted to start your road map at "writing a book," you might include a tiny icon of a book, then write a short description about this stop that goes a little something like this:
Congrats! You’ve just finished writing a book. Take a very quick breather, but don’t stop for too long. You’re about to take this baby from finished to full-fledged bestseller.
Make sure you also include at least five quotes on your map from famous writers about the writing process. You can use these to decorate your map—decorative bordering, perhaps—or put them where a compass would typically go, in the corner.
For example, Shmoop might include the quote, "Turn off the TV," from the King article, and then turn to interviews with some of our other favorite writers to get the rest.
No offense, Steve.
Either way, make sure you keep a copy for yourself, so you can compare it to the stories of real-life authors in the next lesson's activity. When all’s said and done, your map should include the following:
- A minimum of two graphics
- At least ten stops
- A two to three sentence long explanation that describes each stop
- Five "tips" from bestselling authors somewhere on the map
When you’re finished with every last detail, submit your map below.
- Course Length: 18 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Elective
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1